Diablo 4 is the great comeback we have been longing for from the series. The veterans at Blizzard clearly wanted to create the darkest RPG at the studio and for the most part, Diablo 4 is just that. It is layered in deep RPG mechanics that grow the more you scratch beneath the surface. The story doesn’t shy away from being the most uncomfortable and excruciating in the series either. But with this being said, Diablo 4 is far from perfect. Its tedious open world, questionable gameplay design decisions and loot grind issues might rub you the wrong way.
Unlike Diablo 3 which featured a cel-shaded art style and a more linear gameplay approach, Diablo 4 feels refreshing from not only a visual point of view but its expanded world is also nice to have. The world is brought to life with immaculately detailed environments and different regions that all look and feel unique.
The world also delivers this incredible sense of darkness, famine and sadness. Areas are completely drained of life, villages are suffering from plagues, death, and starvation. There’s definitely this sense of suffering throughout every corner of Sanctuary.
Jumping into this world is fun at first. Especially given that each of the playable classes perfectly moulds into the rolling hills, bleeding forests and frozen wastelands. I decided to play the Druid in my first playthrough. I would usually go for the Sorcerer but I needed a bit of change in my life. The Druid is an elemental class and I spent my hours grinding XP to create a stone build focused on Fortify and poison damage – if Blizzard allowed me to. But more on this later.
Diablo 4 sees the return of Lilith, Daughter of Hatred. As she walks the lands of Sanctuary, the player follows her path picking up on the activities and chaos she has left behind. The story follows a similar structure as previous Diablo games. You don’t really see the villain until the climactic ending moments but the memories and dialogue tie into the events which took place prior to your arrival.
Given that Diablo 4 is an open-world game, I could virtually go anywhere I wanted. While this seemed fun at first, the game world isn’t very engaging. The large map might seem compelling at first but after a dozen hours, it all starts to blend into itself. Hills are just hills, rocks are just rocks, large grasslands don’t hold any secrets and everything feels kind of repetitive.
I don’t know what causes this but I suspect that firstly, the camera angle doesn’t help to create a sense of exploration we get from other open-world games like Tears of the Kingdom and Elden Ring. There were no moments where I saw a structure in the distance and forced myself to make a trek towards it in curiosity. Instead, I just saw the top of my Druid’s noggin the whole time.
Sure, there are some world events that spawn every now and then and live quests that pop up while walking about, but these just become the same rinse-and-repeat nonsense over and over again. While the camera angle is a staple in the series (and other action RPGs), it actually works against the game and makes this should-be-wonderful world, feel rather flat and boring.
Secondly, there’s really nothing to do in the world but break some tree trunks, open a few chests and kill demons. The live events spawn at different times and there are Strongholds to conquer but even those became too familiar too quickly. There are Dungeons in the world. Lots of them but sadly, Blizzard doesn’t want you to play them unless you are using a specific class.
I didn’t get this design choice at all. The Dungeons are the best part of the game but they reward you with Aspects – cool abilities you can imbue into gear. These Aspects are not account bound once unlocked and tied to specific classes. So if you’re playing the Druid, you can do every Dungeon but it is pointless if the Aspect at the end is for another class.
Why would Blizzard not want you to play their game? It makes no sense. At least unlock the Aspects on my account so when I create a new class, I had them available. Even if you had to gatekeep them to a certain level requirement. At least I could explore the world fully and not walk past cool areas because they provided no benefit but XP and some gear.
So yes, the world isn’t great. There are some beautifully-designed areas where main quests are set but apart from that, I found very little excitement in the world around me. It becomes a case of setting a pin, walking there, doing stuff and moving on. Not ideal for an open-world game.
Of course, throughout it all, I bashed demons around which was where all the fun in Diablo 4 is found. Building a character from a single punch attack to a walking stone wrecking ball with a Werewolf-morphing skill set was the best action RPG experience I could ask for – and this is the pinnacle of action RPG without a doubt.
Diablo 4 also wants you to experiment with gear and skills and tie it all together. As a result, the grind to level 50 is fun and the power ladder makes for an enjoyable time. It also helps that everything can be refunded so I could build a character into something new at any time.
This is the best and most fleshed-out action RPG system in the series and it is incredibly fun to experiment with. The Skill Tree, the Paragon System, the Aspects, Legendary Gear and Unique items all tie together to create an ever-changing playstyle. It is all about focusing on the stats and watching patiently as your focus stat slowly creeps up by a few per cent each hour.
Everything you would expect from a Diablo game is also here without wondering “Where do I get that”. This means you can customize your character at any time by visiting a wardrobe. Here I could not only change the build of my class but the sex, size, skin colour and more. I could then skin my gear to look like items I previously salvaged. This makes for a great way to build up an entire collection of cool-looking items and have outfits for every new day.
Sadly, Diablo 4 is missing a few features here too and if anything, makes the endgame grind a pain in the ass. There’s no preset build system where I could save a loadout of gear and switch between the class archetype and items whenever I wanted to change stuff. Diablo 4 also suffers here because it gets harder and harder to change your build the more you play. In the end, way into the Paragon level system it costs well over 150,000 gold to refund your skills. Then you have to extract Aspects and imprint them. A typical rebuild of your class can set you back 500,000 gold at times.
This definitely works against the player. Instead of being able to freely enjoy the level 100 character and all the benefits of having all the skills available, you have to spend a small fortune on making this possible. In theory, this makes it a chore to create a build for each Nightmare Dungeon and Helltide Event. I can see hardcore players creating multiple classes for each build because it might actually be easier. The resources needed and the gold required make it a pain to experiment with new ways to play. That is the whole point of the game is it not?
But it gets even worse. Diablo 4 doesn’t provide the same excitement and perhaps the same rewards for experimenting with different builds. Not everything can be equally as powerful and there’s definitely a “meta” issue in the game which nudges you towards the typical build type just because it works.
Some skills are very bad… pointless to use and even with all the buffs and perks, won’t be effective. At the moment, Vulnerable is too strong and there’s really no reason to focus on anything else and have fun. This is fine for now, don’t get me wrong but when you’ve built all the Vulnerable class builds possible, why would you experiment with something else when it won’t be as effective?
I would go as far as to say that Diablo 4 penalises you for wanting to try new builds. From the expensive respec costs to the weaker Core Abilities, it currently doesn’t want you to have fun outside of the meta. If anything, it discourages creativity. Blizzard needs to make all different playstyles as powerful and exciting. I should have as much fun building a freeze Sorcerer as much as a Barbarian who can stun enemies. Right?
Of course, things will change as the game gets older. The live-service structure of Diablo 4 means anything is possible. I just hope Blizzard focuses less on its overpriced cosmetics and more on the actual meat of the game. The players left behind after level 50 rely on a solid endgame grind and right now, it sucks. It is boring, it forces you into a corner and you can’t have fun. That isn’t going to bode well for the longevity of this game.
This Diablo 4 review is based on a PS5 code sent to us by Blizzard Entertainment. The game is available now starting at R1559.
Diablo 4 is the darkest game in the series but its world is dull, its story doesn’t reach its potential and the endgame grind discourages creativity.